Massachusetts Approves Some Drug Sentencing Reforms

In action taken over the weekend in the final days of its legislative session, the Massachusetts Senate passed a bill that would shorten some sentences for drug offenders. The sentencing reform came within broader legislation, SB 2583, that will reduce the availability of criminal records in a bid to help former offenders find jobs.

Massachusetts State House
The bill, which was supported by Gov. Deval Patrick (D), would grant drug offenders serving mandatory minimum sentences in county Houses of Correction parole eligibility after serving half of their time -- like other county prisoners -- unless there are aggravating factors, such as the involvement of minors or the use of weapons or violence. People already serving time for such offenses would be eligible to seek parole.

But the bill could have been better: The final version dropped two sentencing reforms previously endorsed by the Senate. One would have allowed drug offenders doing mandatory minimums in state prisons the same access to parole as their county prison counterparts, and the other would have allowed drug offenders to be eligible for work release programs.

Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) Massachusetts project director Barbara Dougan applauded the vote but said legislators did not go far enough. "This law should provide a powerful incentive for county drug offenders to put their prison time to good use and prepare themselves for a successful return to their communities," she said. "While we wish the bill had contained additional reforms, especially for those state prisoners who are serving the harshest sentences, FAMM views the current legislation as an excellent first step in the right direction. We look forward to working with the legislature to expand these reforms in the coming years."

This makes Massachusetts at least the 16th state to reform mandatory minimum drug laws in recent years. But there is still more work to be done, in the Bay State and elsewhere.

Boston, MA
United States
Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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Not far enough

Dougan is right -- they should've done more. FAMM is a good organization, and I'm sure they are thrilled about the reduction in the crack/powder cocaine disparity.

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